From Here On: Four Sunday Drives

Part I: Granite Road

By Don Thompson - Buttonwillow, California, USA - 25 November 2015




On Granite Road: Crows
dawdle along narrow, crumbling shoulders,
by choice earthbound
and not compelled, not held down like us.
Stubbornly undisturbed,
they take flight only if forced.


The sky's an easy out
these crows wisely refuse,
choosing to bear witness to us
who are half-crazed and grounded
(except in rare dreams)
until earth molders flesh and bone.


But then . . . 


Faced for now with terminus,
that translucid shadow
cast by the ghost we call self,
let crows offer comfort:
receive it: see


how they strut with notorious panache,
though footsore, vain
but not easily flattered;
how they feast
on leftovers the Lord provides,
panem nostrum quotidianum,
content with whatever they get
their beaks into . . .


Let watching them be balm:


Let peace come.


Death's not the end,
merely another nondescript dry creek
like this one -- Poso,
where the road descending
makes a hard left onto the bridge
that crosses a two-bit Styx.


Easily said . . .


But downstream, where the creekbed
vanishes into sand and brambles
leaving no trace,
a girl's discarded bones:
Dental records recognized Yoselin's smile.


So pray for grace, for snow falling
on Greenhorn Summit
and falling again all winter,
heaped up until spring
deeper than dry summer doubt.


Pray that run-off would reach up
and touch the bridge,
just touch,
washing its brushwood debris
down into the Valley,
settling there in shallow pools,
quiet pools someone could sit by
and remember Yoselin . . .


Selah . . .




On the creek's far side, vandals
who've whacked chunks from history,
who've pry-barred a plaque from its concrete block
(commemorating -- what?)
have done no harm to time.
But the old brass
they sold for a dime bag.


We used to abandon brass,
considered worthless,
at that low but abrupt bluff nearby
(fenced now and the fence disrespected)
where dads when we had them
taught us to plink:


No sound more elemental,
more gratifying
to inclinations in a boy's heart
than that unmistakable, metallic clunk
of a bolt chambering a round,
even a .22 short;


no, nothing unless it's steel
honed on oiled whetstone --
somehow combining swish with sizzle,
both silk and grit.


Evidence of wicked delight we take
in breaking things,
this bloodbath of shattered glass
glittering in dirt
like sunlight on water,
impossibly beautiful:


an ossuary for bottles.




Here and there from an intricate pipe
schemata you might doodle,
bored in church,
steam rises reminding us
of how quickly our fierce, insistent breath
whiffs into nothingness.


Our breath, we believe, and our prayers
ascend like the smoke of incense;
they do,
but also mingle with oilfield effluvia.


The earth's poisoned here, sparse
dead weeds like patches of fur
on a rotted carcass.
Hundreds of pumpjacks bend the knee,
knock foreheads on the ground
continuously -- worshipers
of a despised but indispensable god
whose minds never wander.


And here this morning, again,
this addled old man sees his breath,
no less awestruck than a toddler;
witnesses its dissipation
with a shrug, without regrets.


Easily said . . .




Now in Advent, spring's prophesy,
grass like thin, green mist
that burns to dun by afternoon
blurs the hills.
These flatland slabs upended eons ago
have aged well, venerable,
their rough edges abraded --
deep, angular arroyos
weathered to mere wrinkles.


And everywhere granite nudges consciousness.

No one can ignore volcanic scat
with mica glinting in it like rime:
modest but odd outcrops
and anonymous tors salient enough
to earn local names --
yet nameless,
though marred by graffiti.


Granite, unlike marble,
is much too fractious to chisel,
even for gravestones, and resists
with lithe-chthonic obstinance
any shape we'd want to give it.


So let vandals spray paint:
let them spit. 
Their own names
will fade to ghostliness before they die.


And all the stand-alone boulders
will sit on their thumbs,
mum, keeping every secret
ever trusted to them
until commanded to speak --
when and if none of us
remember to offer praise.


The burned saloon's floor is thin air.
At Granite Station
you can stop and listen to the dead
who seem to come here for a drink,
scraping muddy, manured boots --
a sound like wind inhibited by frigid weeds.


They must hang their hats
on nails hammered into oblivion;
lean against the bar,
waxed in old photos to catch the light
that's still here;
then cough up dust clots and look around
for a brass cuspidor
(stolen and sold.)


An odd haunting: 

Reticent, with sidelong glances,
they watch, expecting 
us to manifest next to them . . .
Will we nod at each other
in the dark mirror?


Instead of brimstone, stale beer
fouls their Sheol,
and ashes, maybe, but no flames:


Only the chimney endures
in this world, stubbornly
making its claim against time.
No smoke, but wisps of fog
in loco fumus
diffuse above it this morning.
The scorched hearth is cold.




Also cold, this other chimney
of rough field stone, unfinished
like the past that
keeps shifting its own paradigms,
will easily outlast
the ramshackle cabin attached to it.


Someone must have cashed out here,
done in by drought or a weak beef market,
by alcohol or an unfaithful wife's
escape to town.


Whitewash has washed to gray,
sun-blistered on walls out of plumb;
glass shattered (of course)
and the corrugated roof  bloodstained by rust,
one sheet peeled back
as if the wind has been picking scabs . . .


The dead die without us: ennui
kills them again and again.
Unless we allow them to haunt,
they fade -- disintegrate,
survived by tattered curtains
in windows where they waited for so long,
hoping we'd come.


The solitude here hurts.


But a Hereford bull loitering alone
looks used to it -- bleary,
an old fool years from his last mad rut,
ignoring the cows that ignore him,
muttering into the grass.


Cut loose from lust, unfettered,
and no longer troubled by
bells in the dark,
the bull broods over his salt lick,
worries it to a nub:
slow work, glum contentment.


No feed lot at least --
no fear:
Rather than a nail gun between the eyes,
a slow, slobbery unraveling.


Offer this prayer then:
To shuffle into eternity
disheveled and stiff-jointed,
grating on everyone's nerves,
and then wake
weightless and well-lubed.


New . . .


And let the backhoe gouge a hole
for unnecessary bones.
We'll do well
to lie down among the locals
not far from Marah, the town
where no one drinks the water,
but only beer -- less bitter.




The season's bleak, clouds defeated;
evergreens grieve, almost black.
The grass here died standing tall.


Leaves blown against a gravestone
hide the name:
at least Beloved is legible.


No one blames the wind
or calls the bare trees crass
for letting go.  They had to.


But let's sweep the leaves away,
gently, as if brushing hair
from a sleeping child's cheek,


and read again the name,
so ordinary, that endures
only because the chisel insists.


It's raining now, almost -- a mist.
And the narrow, burnt-charcoal asphalt,
wicked switchbacks steeply uphill
from here on, begins to glisten.


Everything does . . .


Somehow this light's not reflected,
but seeps out of the earth,
drips from granite:
an immanence:
Scrub oaks exude a sacred sheen
as peace
rises from root to branch.


Dona nos pacem.


And even if the road holds up
its rusted, gut-shot sign to daunt us
-- Slippery When Wet --
so what?
Cautiously, we climb.